Encounter art installations in Harvard Square that, one way or another, talk back to viewers
Harvard Square is home to two new large art installations, strikingly placed at the Charles Hotel and as a centerpiece at Harvard’s Science Center Plaza: One’s a multilayer interactive experience meant to absorb and regurgitate our urban surroundings; the other is an ominous summation of our ever-changing climate. Both have strong Harvard roots.
In the Science Center Plaza is David Buckley Borden’s “Warning Warming,” a striking, multi-hued A-frame structure, informing us of unhappy environmental prospects. The white, then sunny tint transmutes into a fiery orange-red, representing rising temperatures, while the other side of the segmented 3D exhibit forecasts a concerning map of CO2 levels. Borden is a fellow at the Harvard Forest – a research department and actual forest on Route 2, managed and cultivated by the university – and a self-proclaimed “recovering landscape architect” who says the project is a something of a spinoff from the “Hemlock Hospice” project out at the Harvard Forest, where the titular trees will become “functionally extinct by 2025” due to an invasive, aphid-like insect from Japan.
“Warning Warning,” like “Hemlock Hospice,” was collaborative. “These are science communications,” he said in conversation, “and I’m like the creative director.” According to Borden, who studied at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, it took a team of about 10 to design and assemble the 25-foot structure. It will remain on the plaza until early December. (“Hemlock Hospice” comes down Nov. 18, and Borden a side project called “Triple Decker Ecology” is on display at the Somerville Museum until Dec. 9.)
Over at the Charles Hotel is “Pulsus,” a 30-foot casting extending into the hotel’s lower courtyard by GSD associate professor in practice Allen Sayegh and Invivia Design, where Sayegh is a partner. Invivia and the school’s Responsive Environments and Artifacts Lab, which Sayegh oversees, focus on the intersection of technology, human environmental factors and architecture.
Most folk who see “Pulsus” wonder if Han Solo might not be frozen in there. Indeed, it is made up of seven “negative and positive” human body imprints and designed to be reflective of human activity by absorbing the cityscape sounds and reverberating them in a “pulsating, communicative” fashion. As Sayegh describes it, the work “gathers data from different sources – real-time police conversations, tweets from around the community, among others – and then translates these into different types of tonal sounds, producing the buzzing that you can hear and feel when you’re close to it.” The installation at Charles Square is currently inert, but a video about the structure shows “Pulsus” in its full interactive glory at its inaugural installation in New York City in 2017, when it cooled and misted (commissioned by the New York City Department of Transportation) and just outside the school’s Gund Hall on Quincy Street. Construction at Gund meant Pulsus had to move. It’s new location is in part because of Sayegh’s relationship with Michael Pagliarini, the chef and owner of Benedetto at The Charles Hotel; Invivia’s office abuts Pagliarini‘s other revered eatery, Giulia. Sayegh said he hoped to have “Pulsus” fully interactive again and plans some type of reintroductory event in the spring. According to The Charles, the installation will remain for the foreseeable future.
When fully interactive, “Pulsus” should again collect the “anxiety and vibrancy” of the city through publicly available data sources and code written for the project that converts it into harmonious sounds. Some of the information is preserved – you can actually make out police transmissions, Sayegh said.
Reactions to the current installation vary, but mostly reflect awe. “Han, are you in there?” one observer jokes as he knocks on one of the body bubbles. “More like something from ‘Alien,’” his friend adds, “but I really dig it.” One woman first thought the undulating construct might be some form of industrial wrap left over from the Head of the Charles, but was motivated to learn more even though she found placement of the work – at the bottom of the stairs connecting the hotel’s upper and lower courtyards – “odd.” Another observer wondered if it could be a hazard for the elderly who rely on the center railing ending at the structure’s base.
Other recent design projects by Invivia include “Ora” (2016), an enormous, pulsating orb that occupied Harvard Yard and “The Draem” (2015), a Copenhagen installation marking the the Armenian Genocide in Denmark.